Buy/Drive/Burn: Three-door Japanese SUVs in 1989

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn three door japanese suvs in 1989

Do you remember what the compact SUV market looked like in 1989? Me either. But it was a time where every Japanese manufacturer (except Honda, obviously) offered a three-door SUV. Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Isuzu all vie for your 1989 dollars.

Note: American market promo photos are hard to find, so foreign market photos shown.

Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan fielded a Pathfinder for the first time in 1987, in response to offerings from American manufacturers that were on sale since early in the decade. The first generation (WD21) was based on the Nissan Hardbody pickup, and shared its engines and four-wheel drive system. The last model year for the two-door Pathfinder was 1989 – it grew more doors in 1990 and never looked back. Today’s base model selection employs a 2.4-liter inline-four. 106 horsepower and 137 lb-ft of torque are handled via the four-speed manual transmission. The stylish grille slats at the front are also handy rust importers.

Mitsubishi Montero

Mitsubishi started production of the first generation Pajero in 1982, which it sold around the globe under various adventures in branding: Dodge, Hyundai, and Colt all badged their own versions. Initially a two-door model, Mitsubishi quickly introduced the long-wheelbase five-door in 1983. North American dealers received Monteros in the very first model year, and the range expanded to the five-door version in 1989. The base model (our selection) arrives via a 2.6-liter inline-four producing 109 horsepower and 142 lb-ft of torque. The manual transmission has five speeds, and since it’s not a V6 maybe it’ll leak less oil.

Isuzu Trooper

Isuzu beat Mitsubishi to the punch with their Trooper, offered since 1981. The Trooper was also branded globally by Holden, Chevrolet, SaangYong, and Subaru. Trooper was available in three- and five-door variants from the get-go. There was a bit of engine shuffling for American-bound Troopers for the first few years. Isuzu tried out a 2.3-liter four cylinder which burned itself up, and a turbodiesel which made 87 horsepower and liked to break apart internally. A new 2.6-liter was used in 1988, but that was replaced with GM’s 2.8-liter V6 from the S-10 for 1989. That means today’s Trooper offers 125 horsepower and a five-speed manual.

Three boxes with a rusty and rough-and-tumble attitude. Which goes home with the Buy?

[Images: Nissan, Isuzu, Mitsubishi]

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3 of 38 comments
  • Unionwolf Unionwolf on Jul 16, 2019

    You better put some respect on that Mitsubishi Montero. That's a 12 times Dakar rally winner

  • Victor Victor on Jul 16, 2019

    Buy the Pathfinder because I always loved those rins since the day I'd cross the Guanabara buy just to pick up the latest C&D from the one newstand in downtown Rio that sold imported magazines. Drive the Montero and burn the Isuzu.

  • Crown They need to put the EcoDiesel back in the Grand Cherokee. I have a 2018 and it has been the most reliable vehicle I ever owned. 69,000 miles and only needed tires, and regular oil and fuel filter changes.
  • El scotto Y'all are overthinking this. Find some young hard-charging DA seeking the TV limelight to lock this kid up. Heck, have John Boehner come up from Cincy to help the young DA get his political career going. Better yet, have the young DA spin this as hard as he or she can; I'm the candidate for Law and Order, I defied our go-easy office and leadership to get this identified criminal locked up. Oh this could be spun more than a hyper active kid's top.Now I'd do some consulting work for Little Kings Original Cream Ale and Skyline Chili.
  • El scotto Pondering if he has a clean brandy snifter. Well but, ah, I mean the original Grand Wagoneer was fully loaded and had a V-8. The original Grand Wagoneer had an almost cult-like following with a certain type of woman. Attractive, educated high earning women; or those that put on the appearances of being that way.Our esteemed HerR DOKtor Perfessor again shows how ignorant he is of the American market. What he deems "bread-vans on stilts" are highly coveted by significant others that are also highly coveted. The new Grand Cherokee with the new well engineered V-6 will sell as well as the ones from the 80s some of us get wistful over. The only real question will be: LL Bean or Orvis edition?
  • El scotto Well, I've had cats that are smarted than a great many members of congress. I rather doubt that any of the congresspeople Matt named are engineers, finance people or project managers. Ya know, professionals you call in to get a job done.Today is Wednesday, this will be out of the 36 hour news cycle by Friday. Oh it might get mentioned again on OCT 6. Unless there are cute animals to put on TV that day.
  • El scotto Oh My Good Lord Yes! Gents, this is a Caddy that carries on the soul of Caddy. Loud, brash, and apologetically American. Also large and in charge and one of GM's best evah engines. What used to be a flash roll is now bottle service.Can't deal with that reality? There are plenty of excellent SUVs/CUVs on the market. I'm a former Escape owner. The Escape was a sensible lil CUV, this Caddy is just way over the top.Canyon carver? Not a chance, this is based on a Silverado frame. Easy to park? Toss the valet the keys. Will some of the other high-end SUVs have better "soft touch" materials that make car journalist get tingly all over? Of course.This Caddy is designed to eat up huge and I mean huge amounts of American interstate miles. Four people and their luggage? Easily.